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Material culture in Late Antique Egypt: between pagan tradition and Christian assimilation.

Abstract

This paper will deal with the survival of material culture in Late Antique Egypt, focusing on the fourth and fifth centuries AD. I will survey the main issues related to the study of the pagan material world in Late Antique Egypt. These issues relate to the various objects at our disposal, which in some instances have been hard to date. Moreover, even when items have been ordered into temporal categories, it has been difficult to distinguish between “religious” and “neutral” usage of material culture. Then I will examine the state of fourth-century pagan Egyptian religion, arguing that, as a lack of epigraphical material indicates a steady decline of public cult, a particular phenomenon was taking place: the “privatisation” of pagan cults, as demonstrated by the case study of Karanis. In addition, I shall focus on both apotropaic and “neutral” usage, as attested by the development of amuletic objects from the fourth to the fifth century AD. Objects of personal adornment will be analysed in relation to magical practices to verify what role decorative paraphernalia played in the survival of pagan material culture. Finally, I shall examine the syncretic process between paganism and Christianity. In particular, through the influences paganism had on Christianity, it may be possible to infer that pagan objects were still in use in late fifth-century Egypt, though with a different purpose.

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